We have nothing against line breaks. But line breaks do not substitute for punctuation. And lack of punctuation is not poetic.

Criticism is not about brainwashing or bullying. That’s brainwashing and bullying, not criticism. A poet who is highly defensive about their own work can be a brainwashing bully. Brainwashing and bullying can be done by anyone and has nothing to do with Criticism, per se.

Criticism is a guide, that’s all. It’s the brain of the eyes. Good criticism lays out examples, shares work from many ages and writers, and presents it. End of story. Nothing wrong with that. If you are a nature poet, and there’s a million examples of nature poetry out there, you should count criticism which knows something about nature poetry as your friend—that is, if you yourself, as the poet, are not a brainwashing bully.

Writing workshops = a modern money-making scheme. We can objectively read our own work. It is brainwashing to say otherwise. If you can’t edit your work, solo, you are no writer. Criticism belongs to the newspaper, the public square, the lecture hall, not the private, writing workshop, classroom—and so the latter should not exist. The writing workshop can only exist as “invite-only” mischief, as behind-the-scenes reputation making, as institutional thievery of what should remain private in the writer’s house. Good professional criticism has been killed by the Writing Program era.

Any piece of writing can be ridiculed. The question in every particular case is always: should it be? This ‘should’ applies on many subtle levels so that a literary critic is truly the most important member of any modern society. But Criticism has been taken from society and imprisoned in a textbook. Socrates was the first really good one. Critics don’t belong in the classroom—it is a perverse waste of talent for troublesome, cynical ends.

Reading. That’s really all literary education is. Throw in purely material considerations of metrics, a few mechanical prose issues. Anything else is dubious, and perhaps damaging.

As Alexander Pope said, the spirit is more important than the letter. Don’t nitpick. On the other hand, grammar is 50% of writing. Poets who can’t punctuate kill themselves. Poe was a fierce critic, but only to rebuff really bad writing. A Poe critic belongs in a newspaper, not workshops. The old English major is better for writing because reading is better for writing. Workshops are pathological and unnecessary. If teaching writing is your gig, we are sorry. Of course it’s not your fault—it’s the landscape today.  Just pretend you are a literature teacher. And for God’s sake, make them read Plato. Be confident they will get enough empty modern certainty on their own.

E. E. Cummings used punctuation a lot. Semicolons abound in many of his poems. He went to Harvard. He used stanza, rhyme, repetition, parenthetical marks, and least of all, the line break, for poetical emphasis. He was a meticulously formalist Romantic poet who belonged to the modernist, 1920s, Dial clique of Moore, Williams, Pound, and Eliot, eloped with money-bags Scofield Thayer’s wife, won an annual Dial award just like the rest of them (with a substantial cash award) and went on to outsell them all.

Cummings fooled everyone into thinking he was modern. Clever guy.

A good writer fools others.

But not you.



  1. Mr. Woo said,

    May 26, 2016 at 11:30 am

    E.E. Cummings, my high school crush! I still love me some ee because he did not give one solitary fuck.

    And for all his ridiculousness, he got it: “Kisses are a better fate than wisdom.”
    “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

  2. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 27, 2016 at 3:13 am

    If it weren’t for William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe and Wallace Stevens I would never have become a poet in the first place, but it was E.E. Cummings who was the vision on my road to Damascus.

    “This I Believe” with Gary B. Fitzgerald – Houston Public Media

    • Mr. Woo said,

      May 28, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      Stephen Crane’s poems got me first, oddly enough. Then Blake.

      Enjoyed your “This I Believe”, along with your poem. You have a great reading voice.

  3. Gary B. Fitzgerald said,

    May 29, 2016 at 3:39 am

    Thank you.


  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    May 29, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Bravo, Thomas Graves. Beautiful, True, and Good.

  5. noochinator said,

    May 4, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Speaking of punctuation, I’d like to see a new punctuation mark added to English: the double-comma (,,). A double-comma would be for a full-pause — a stop-and-ruminate marker, a yellow light or a flashing red. A single-comma would just be a flashing yellow, put in to add clarity.

      • noochinator said,

        May 4, 2018 at 12:30 pm

        NTCTS*, but have you read ‘Jakob von Gunten’ by Robert Walser? Best examination I’ve ever encountered of the submissive mind, in all its fear, desire for abasement, passive-aggression, bitterness, cowardice, hidden subversion, etc.—and the book seems to be making the point that these are also traits of the mass man which our system seems so adept at producing….

        *Not to change the subject

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